NOVEMBER 27, 1967
As a fan of the St. Louis Rams, Jim Hart takes pride in the Super Bowl title the team brought back to his home city last year. Hart, 57, quarterbacked the previous St. Louis franchise, the Cardinals, for 18 years, and wishes that team could have delivered a championship. He gets oh-so-slightly heated when asked what he and his former teammates think about the Cards, who moved to Arizona 13 years ago. "We're Rams fans!" he says. "This is our city." Yet Hart knows that neither Missourians nor Arizonans feel much attachment to the St. Louis-era Cardinals. "We sometimes get a little miffed that we aren't accepted by either one."
The NFL had no interest in Hart when he graduated from Southern Illinois in 1965. He went undrafted and didn't hook up with a team until '66, when he made the St. Louis taxi squad thanks to a tryout arranged by his college coach, Don Shroyer, a former Cardinals assistant. A year later Hart, known to his teammates as Peach Fuzz because his baby face rarely needed shaving, became the St. Louis starter after Charley Johnson was called into the Army. Hart threw 30 interceptions that fall but survived to become one of the league's most prolific passers and the undisputed leader of the high-scoring Cardiac Cards, named for their frequent come-from-behind victories. A four-time member of the Pro Bowl team, he led St. Louis to two division championships in the mid-'70s, and by the time he retired in '84 at age 40, he had attempted 5,076 passes and gained 34,665 yards through the air—both third on the NFL career list at the time.
Hart eased the withdrawal pains of NFL retirement by doing radio commentary on Bears games and by continuing his partnership with offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, a teammate for 13 years, in Dierdorf and Hart's Steakhouse in St. Louis, which they opened in 1983 and is still in business. In '88 he returned to Southern Illinois as athletic director, a job he held for 11 years before assuming his current position as a special fund-raiser for the university. Jim and his college sweetheart, Mary, celebrated their 34th anniversary this month. With their three children grown, two-year-old grandson Drae is a favorite visitor.
So what does a man who for decades has stayed devoted to his family, his school and his city think about today's NFL? "It's become such a big business," Hart says. "The players don't seem to be having as much as fun as we had. There's not much loyalty on either side now."